Latest Gallup Poll shows that religious fervor after 9/11 may be temporary
By Tony Staley
Terrorist attacks on the United States last Sept. 11 increased American religious activity, but apparently not as much or as deeply as was commonly believed, according to the Gallup Poll.
In a poll taken Sept. 21-22 -- right after the attacks -- 64% of respondents said religion was "very important" in their lives. That compares to 60% in a Dec. 14-16 poll, which is right in line with the 55-63% of Americans who, for the last decade, have said religion was "very important" to them.
But when it comes to religious practice, the outlook is not as bright. When pollsters asked Dec. 14-16: "Did you, yourself, happen to attend church or synagogue in the last seven days, or not?" only 41% of respondents said "yes." That's a drop from a 47% affirmative response in Sept. 21-22, but close to the 40-45% affirmative responses that have been the norm since mid-1988.
And the 47% affirmative response Sept. 21-22, was still slightly less than the 48% who said they had attended church or synagogue in a poll taken during Holy Week in March 1994.
In other words, despite media reports indicating that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had drawn Americans back to church, the truth is more Americans are staying home than are going to church.
When we take into account that Gallup polls are accurate to plus or minus 3%, the differences could be even smaller. Thus, as few as 44% of Americans may have gone to church, which is right in the normal range for church attendance -- 40-45%. Of course, it's also possible that 50% of Americans may have attended church right after Sept. 11, but either way, it wasn't an enormous increase and small as it was, it didn't last.
The popular idea of churches overflowing with suddenly religious Americans is mirrored in another finding from the December poll: 71% of Americans said they think religion "is increasing its influence on American life." That's the first time since 1986 that more people believed religious influence is increasing than believed it is decreasing. The last time that question was asked -- in February 2001 -- 39% said the influence of religion was rising and 55% said it was falling.
And, while 61% of respondents in the Dec. 14-16 poll said religion "can answer all or most of today's problems," that's a drop from the usual 63-68% and the lowest rate since the 61% registered in March 1997. For more on the poll go to www.gallup.com.
The poll findings clearly show that we religious people have much work to do to convince other Americans about the importance of religion. But at least, we don't have to convince Americans that religion isn't magic.